OCA Parish Mentorship Program for Seminarians Strengthened

The Very Rev. Eric G. Tosi is the Secretary of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). Before going to seminary he served as an officer in the U.S. Army. He has been a parish priest in Billings, Montana and Las Vegas, Nevada, and is the former Chair of the Department of Evangelization of the OCA. He is completing his doctoral thesis for a Doctor of Ministry on Evangelism in the Orthodox Church, at Trinity College, University of Toronto, and currently manages the OCA's Parish Mentorship Program at St. Vladimir's Seminary. We asked him to update us about this program, and the role it plays in a seminarian's preparation for ministry.

Fr. Eric, from your perspective as an experienced parish priest, an educator, and a church administrator, what are the chief goals of an Orthodox theological education?

Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko wrote in his article "Theological Education and Modernity" that the task of Orthodox theological education is twofold: "to affirm and explain the Orthodox Christian faith, and to assist believers in applying and practicing the faith in their daily lives." The formal education at St. Vladimir's seeks to impart the first task through its rigorous theological education program.

The second task is always a bit of challenge. So many of our students come with such a variety of experiences from such diverse backgrounds, that the task of applying the faith takes on unique challenges. It is through, in part, the Parish Mentorship Program that such challenges are approached.

How has the Parish Mentorship Program developed in the last few years?

This program has always sought, with hierarchical input, to place seniors into local parishes with experienced clergy. Clergy then serve as mentors in the practical pastoral aspects of parish life and ministry. In some instances, the relationships have been very strong, establishing lifelong bonds between the graduating seminarian and the mentor.

A new cooperative effort was established last year between the Chancery and St. Vladimir's Seminary. This level of cooperation has helped graduating students develop a relationship with the Chancery as well as with their mentor priests, and we hope this will also endure throughout their time of ministry.

Have there been any other changes?

We added a monthly reflective class, in which assignments honed the students' skills in understanding parish dynamics, theological reflections on ministry, and understanding practical applications of ministry. We've encouraged seminarians to reflect on the work of a priest, and to discuss the ministry issues that arise. Classes often became a sounding board for their experiences of the preceding month. The readings augment and integrate their experience.

We've also been emphasizing the pastoral and reflective approach. The students are required to complete 100 hours of contact time over two semesters, including participation in the liturgical life of the parish, preparing and preaching three sermons each semester, teaching youth, teen and adult classes, attending a parish council meeting and the annual meeting, and doing two pastoral visitations each semester at nursing homes, hospitals, or homes. All of these were done under the supervision and guidance of the mentor priest.

Which parishes have participated this year?

The OCA Parish Mentorship Program is grateful to the people and pastors of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Jersey City, NJ, Christ the Savior Church in Paramus, NJ, Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, CT, Holy Transfiguration Church in New Haven, CT, and Holy Trinity Church in Yonkers, NY for their participation in this year's Mentorship program. The students have received invaluable life lessons that will always be a part of their ministry.

~Dn. Alessandro Margheritino

"I feel incredibly blessed to have been mentored by Fr. Joseph Lickwar, a priest with an amazing amount of experience, and patience to match. I also greatly enjoyed our Friday meetings and comparing experiences with the other seminarians. It allowed all of us to get a look inside other parishes—in some cases, vastly different than our own assignments—and gave us the benefit of seeing different parts of the veritable cornucopia of parishes that is the OCA."

~Fr. Nicholas Roth

"Fr. Vladimir's mentoring was vital to my future as a hospital chaplain as he was able to share his pastoral care experience and his knowledge of resources in the greater community."

~Beryl Knudsen

"I think Beryl's experience this year is best summed up in a letter I received on April 18, 2014. I do not know the man; he stopped when Beryl and I were in the office. He wrote: 'Last Autumn upon returning from Southbury, I stopped by the church for the purpose of offering a simple prayer in memory of my late wife Judith. You and your assistant (Beryl) received me with much kindness, sympathy and caring, during a time that I felt very heartbroken. I wish to thank you both.'"

~Fr. Vladimir Aleandro

"I enjoyed the monthly discussions led by Fr. Eric, where we had the opportunity to discuss real and concrete pastoral issues."

~Dn. Kyle Parrott 

"I believe that our parish has benefited more than the student (seminarian Joshua Schooping), especially when the student has a family and they have participated along with the intern in the worship, educational opportunities, and parish activities." 

~Fr. David Vernak